Roots 'n' Shoots: March 2012

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Peppers: How To Grow - Fruit of the Month

Pepper stats/requirements at a glance

Ease of Raising:
3/5 – Bi-weekly check up
Water:
4/5 – Daily (mostly during fruit set)
Sun:
5/5 – Full sun, no shade (fruit ripening)
Training:
3/5 – Needs some, pinching out of flowers/growth
Fertilise/Feeding:
3-4/5 – Monthly (growing) to Fortnightly (fruiting)
Time to Harvest:
3-4/5 – Moderate (2-4 months, green can be picked soon, ripe fruit later in summer)
Frost Hardiness
1/4 – Very Tender (cannot take light frost)


Uses:
Culinary, Pollinator attractor
Most Problematic Nemesis: 
Blossom End Rot, Sunburn
Container Plant:
Preferable

Peppers
Capsicum
Quick intro

The word "pepper" is used to describe two different families of plants, one is used as a fruit and the other used as a spice (aka your salt & pepper J). ‘Peppers’ is the collective word for bell peppers, chilies and paprika, whereas white/black pepper describes the dried fruits from the Piper nigrum plant, which is used for seasoning of just about everything.

Here I will be focusing on Bell peppers, as I do not grow chillies – don’t like to eat them, so why grow them J - but the tips and tricks discussed here will help chilly growing as well.

History

Now then, I think the history of bell peppers and chillies is quite obvious. It originated in Central and South America (specifically the Caribbean & in Mexico) and has been cultivated since 3000BC. Columbus took these plants to Africa and Asia, where it quickly became a popular and integral part of those cultures’ dishes.

Science Stuff

The pepper genus, Capsicum, is divided into roughly 3 groups; Capsicum annuum ssp. Paprika Longum group aka Paprika, Capsicum annuum Grossum group aka sweet/bell peppers and Capsicum annuum Longum group aka chillies. Another species, Capsicum frutescens, also includes some chilly varieties, which are used to make Tabasco sauce.

Bell Pepper Plant
Capsicum annuum
The Capsicum genus, belongs to the Solanaceae family, which includes other well-known fruiting plants, such as tomato, potato, eggplant and ‘medicinal’ plants, such as tobacco, belladonna, thorn-apple and henbane. For the medicinal plants, one should remember that it is the dosage that distinguished a remedy from a poison. J

Growing Peppers

Peppers are grown as annuals, but they are perennial plants. In areas which do not experience very cold winters, the pepper plants can be left during the winter to flower and fruit early in the next spring. Colder climate areas, will grow peppers as annuals from seeds – or you could protect the peppers from harsh winter conditions by housing it indoors. I have 2 peppers plants going, one remains from the previous season (to flower and fruit early, while the other grows) and one planted newly. After fruiting, the 2nd season pepper is removed and the newly planted pepper is left to survive the winter. In this way you rotate your pepper plants, so that they do not become too old and scraggly.

Seeds are sown when the last threat of frost has passed or they can be pre-sown indoors and transplanted outside once their first ‘true leaves’ have appeared. Make a 1-2cm hole in the ground, place the seed in the hole and sprinkle soil over, this increases seedling emergence and prevents the seedling from being washed out of the soil.

Capsicum annuum - Bell pepper
Seedling

Peppers require training, not as much as tomatoes, but a little more than eggplants J. The plants should be supported by one stake tied to the main stem. A little gap should be left between the stake and the stem when tied to prevent damaging the plant and allows the plant stem to expand.

A bell pepper plant should be allowed to carry 6 fruits at any time. So if you pick some peppers to use green, allow the plant to set more flowers until the fruit count is up to 6 again. Smaller fruiting pepper plants, such as pepper-dews and chillies, can carry a lot of fruits on one plant. Once a pepper plant has gone into their 2nd season, they have acclimated (adjusted to your weather conditions) and will fruit like crazy, especially pepper-dews and chillies – you won’t know what to do with them all! I think that you should get away easily with 12 fruits per pepper-dew/chilly, if I have to make an educated guess J.

You would think that these plants won’t require much fertilisation, as the fruits are hollow. But capsicums need a lot of potassium for fruit set, so feed them as often as you would your tomatoes. Once, while growing and every second week during fruit set.

All bell peppers have 3 stages of ripening, unripe = green, ripening = yellow/orange and ripe = red/purple. I have not been able to get peppers to ripen as soon as they have set fruit – even though the tomato is closely related, they seem to follow different ideas about when to ripen their fruit. Fruit ripening starts late summer (so this be the yellow ones J) and will be fully ripe in autumn (this be the red ones).

Bell pepper, setting fruit
Capsicum annuum
Peppers like hot weather, but can get sunburn (our African sun burn holes in the fruit! I first though it was worms, but I have never seen any worms on the plants and the hole seems ‘fallen in’ rather than ‘eaten out’ J). I am still thinking of a way to prevent this, because ‘holy’ peppers can’t be good J.

Other pepper tips

There is a huge variety of pepper colour, shapes and sizes – if you are someone who likes chillies, there is a large variety of easily accessible (you can get hold of them easily J) chillies that also vary in their ‘hot’ factor (I remember the technical term is Scoville heat scale – the amount of water drops needed to neutralise the burning sensation – not that the burning will remain neutralised J, you should drink milk for that). I have a rainbow bell pepper seed mix and have to wait forever to see which colour I get (I want a purple one L!).

Blossom end rot, is a deficiency! (not a disease, as some books have led me to believe!) – It is a problem for most plants of the Solanaceae family (tomatoes and eggplants). This is recognised by the sunken and blackening of the tips of the fruits – you cannot save the fruits once this has happened, so chuck them away! OK, what happens is that a calcium deficiency occurs in the soil when it experiences large fluctuations in water content (wet at night to very dry at midday), this causes a water-linked chemical imbalance in the soil and effects the plant. It is not a disease (is not spread by an infectious/contagious organism). So the solution is two-fold, (1) add some calcium to the soil (to restore the imbalance & return calcium to the plant) and (2) make sure the plant's soil has about the same water/moisture content throughout the day – I fill the saucers of my potted tomatoes, eggplant and peppers with water, as potted plants are more susceptible to this than those planted in the garden…

Blossom End Rot on Tomatoes

… I was always confused when some books described this being a disease, but it is caused by calcium deficiency, and drought , which also made no sense - but I found a website that explained that water fluctuations (not drought) causes a calcium deficiency and this deficiency causes blossom end rot, which made sense given the chemical link between calcium ions and water regulation in biological systems J. Calcium is also required for normal cellular growth and functioning in plants and their fruits. The ‘disease’ part comes in when the effected area become infected with secondary disease-causing organisms (like fungi and bacteria) – that is why you should remove the fruits that have sunken (and yellowed) fruit tips to prevent the secondary infection from setting in.

The website I found the proper explanation on is a great resource provided by the University of Illinois Extension, Gardener’s Corner - http://urbanext.illinois.edu/gardenerscorner/issue_07/summer_05_11.cfm. They have really great articles there and a huge archive! So go check it out!

Harvesting & Storing

You can harvest your peppers whenever you want, green, yellow, red, unripe and ripe. The fruit should be used immediately, and if you do not use all of the fruit – store it in a plastic bag (vacuumed, if you do not plant on using it soon) with a few drops of water to prevent it from drying out in the fridge – will keep for about 1-2 weeks.

Otherwise you can pickle members of the Capsicum genus in vinegar and add all sorts of other goodies and spices to this. Store them in nice glass bottles makes for cool kitchen decorations as well J.

Seed Saving

Pepper flowers are self-pollinating, do not need pollinators/wind. Different varieties of pepper will cross-pollinate when pollinators are available – to prevent this, pollinate the varieties you want with the same species and then bag the flower.
Developing bell pepper flowers
Capsicum annuum
Pepper seeds are easy to store, fully ripe peppers (completely red) seeds are saved. Scrape them out and dry them on a paper towel indoors for about 2 weeks. The dry seeds are stored in glass containers. Seed viability is 2 years. Fresh seeds take longer to germinate (20-50 days) than dried seeds (20 days). Optimum soil temperature is 21-24oC (70-75oF) and seeds should be sown 8 weeks prior to transplanting.

My Bell Peppers

I only have the rainbow seed mix: so I am still waiting to get a purple pepper plant J.


What colour would this one be?
Bell pepper, Capsicum annuum




- Update: 09 Feb 2013 -

After some experimentation I have some new information to share:

1) Big pepper fruit + South African Sun = Rotten Pepper Fruits. The South African sun burns holes into the top of the pepper fruits, rain gets into it and the whole thing becomes a soggy smelly mess, but there is a solution! Get some small pepper cultivars from the grocer (or if you can get seeds, even better!) and plant those seeds (remember the red ones have ripe seeds). The small peppers can cope perfectly well with the SA sun and go completely ripe without any sun damage - besides the small peppers are a better size for our family J.

Small Bell peppers
Capsicum annuum
Sunburn on pepper fruits: Bleaching spot on the fruit that turns into a off-yellow colour and is soft to the touch, soon afterwards a hole will burn into this yellow spot. This goes for green peppers in windowsills to, they don't ripen, just burn...

Severe Sun burnt pepper
Capsicum annuum

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Please share with fellow gardening enthusiasts via the various sharing buttons at the end of posts/pages! Else you can vote for posts through the Google reactions bar at the end of articles. To stay up to date I have provided several reader and social networking platforms with which to subscribe: TwitterPinterestRSS Feed Reader or Email/Follow directly using the Blog Followers widget on the left hand side toolbar. Thank you for reading and please feel free to ask if questions arise - I appreciate comments and ideas too! ­čść
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Sunday, 18 March 2012

Oregano: How To Grow - Herb of the Month

Oregano stats/requirements at a glance

Ease of Raising:
5/5 – Very Easy, plant and leave
Water:
1/5 – Minimal, weekly (especially in a container)
Sun:
5/5 – Full sun
Training:
3/5 – Moderate (keep in shape)
Fertilise/Feeding:
1/5 – Minimal (at least once during the growing season)
Time to Harvest:
1/5 – Immediate (purchased a seedling) to Soon (from seed)
Frost Hardiness:
3/4 – Tender (can’t take mild frost)


Uses:
Culinary, Medicinal, Pollinator attractor & Predator sheltering
Most Problematic Nemesis:
None, some die-back
Container Plant:
Yes (preferably grown in the garden rather than container)


Origanum vulgare
Flora von Deutschland ├ľsterreich und der Schweiz 1885
Kurt Stubers Online Library

Quick intro

No pizza is complete without oregano seasoning, hence oregano is used mainly as a savoury dish herb for meats, pasta and tomato dishes. Oregano is more commonly used as a cooking herb, but has important medicinal properties.

History

Oregano is native to Europe. It was an important herb to the Greeks and Romans, who believed it to be a cure-all herb due to its strong antiseptic properties. Oregano, essentially means ‘joy of the mountain’ or ‘beauty of the mountain’, since ‘oros’ is Greek for mountain and ‘ganos’ means joy/beauty.

Science Stuff

Oregano, Origanum vulgare, belongs to that huge aromatic herb family, Lamiaceae. A quick reminder that the Lamiaceae family includes basil, marjoram, mint, sage, thyme, rosemary, savory and lemon balm. P.S, marjorams belong to the same genus as oregano, but constitute a different species – Marjorams are Origanum majorana.

Many oregano cultivars exist, that have different colours and aromas.

Golden Oregano

Growing Oregano

Oregano is a plant-and-watch-it-grow herb. It loves full sun spots and requires minimal watering and fertilisation. Oregano must not become waterlogged, which is likely punctuated by die-back of some of the tips of the oregano shoots.

They are purchased as small plants, but can be raised from seed although germination takes 10-20 days.


Pruning

Due to the spreading habit of oregano – it needs to be kept in check by pruning it from the side rather than from the top. This can be fun, since the oregano can be cut into different shapes, I keep mine round J - I am sure one can cut it into heart-shapes as well – just cause you can!

On the other hand, it will make a great ground covering plant, especially in a fragrant ornamental or herb garden – like some of Jekka McVicar’s herb gardens – makes me so jealous to see those lovely herb gardens J.
Jekka's Herb Farm in June 2011
Photo: http://jekkasherbfarm.wordpress.com/2011/06/

Other Tips

Oregano is evergreen and hence you will always have fresh oregano. It can be dried, as I know many people prefer the milder taste one gets from dried oregano. Another use for pruning cut-offs is to simply toss it back in the garden as fertiliser (good insects also shelter under the cut-offs) or you can use them as scented mulch around other plants, such as tomato J.

Medicinally, oregano should not be given to pregnant ladies and the essential oil should not be taken internally, as oregano contains very potent antiseptic oils (thymol and carvacrol).  


Harvesting & Storing

Dried oregano: Simply save the pruned leaves and dry on a paper/cloth towel indoors for a few days in a dry (airy) place. Once dry they can be stored in glass jars.

Oregano scented oil: Similar to rosemary, oregano can be heated in oil (no boiling, only smoking oil, else the oil is destroyed and become heart-unhealthy J). The oil is allowed to cool a bit (so that you retain heat as the sterilising agent, but not so hot that it will break the glass container you want to store it in J). The oregano leaves are removed and the oil is pour into a glass bottle (the leaves will become mouldy if left in the oil). This oil is especially useful for meat and pasta dishes!

Origanum vulgare
Flora Batava Volume 3 1814
Kurt Stubers Online Library
Seed Saving & Propagation

Oregano flowers attract many pollinators, including bees and butterflies. This makes it a good companion plant for vegetable gardens. The flower clusters are harvested when dry and separated before storing in a glass container. Seeds are sown in a sunny position when the soil has reached 20oC (68oF). You can raise the seedling from seed, but this takes a lot of determination as I still clearly remember how many times I nearly lost my marjoram seedlings – and they take forever to mature! Also, apparently oreganos raised from seeds do not have a lot of flavour.

They can be propagated by ‘splitting’ large plants and plating them in different locations afterwards – that is to say if you want more than one J. You can ‘split’ large oregano plants because they have a trailing/creeping habit and make roots along their growing branches as they spread sideways – they do not have one main branch which cannot be separated, like basil or rosemary.


My Oregano

Golden Oregano: This variety has a light green colour than the traditional oregano. The new leaves are bight lime green and become darker when they mature. Really good on pizza!

Golden Oregano,
Origanum vulgare


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Please share with fellow gardening enthusiasts via the various sharing buttons at the end of posts/pages! Else you can vote for posts through the Google reactions bar at the end of articles. To stay up to date I have provided several reader and social networking platforms with which to subscribe: TwitterPinterestRSS Feed Reader or Email/Follow directly using the Blog Followers widget on the left hand side toolbar. Thank you for reading and please feel free to ask if questions arise - I appreciate comments and ideas too! ­čść
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Sunday, 11 March 2012

Beetroot: How To Grow - Vegetable of the Month

Beetroot stats/requirements at a glance

Ease of Raising:
4/5 – Easy (monthly check-ups)
Water:
3/5 – Moderate (high heat, every second day)
Sun:
5/5 – Full sun, no shade
Training:
1/5 – None
Fertilise/Feeding:
1-3/5 – Moderate (growing, monthly) to Minimal (during root set, none)
Time to Harvest:
3/5 – Moderate (2-3 months)
Frost Hardiness:
3/4 – Mildly Hardy (can’t take severe frost)


Uses
Culinary
Most Problematic Nemesis:
Nutrient deficiencies
Container Plant:
Only ‘short-rooted’ varieties


Beta vulgaris var. rapacea
Flora von Deutschland ├ľsterreich und der Schweiz 1885
Kurt Stubers Online Library

Quick Intro
Beetroot or beet is a well-known root crop. They are available in many shapes (long, short globe and straight rooted) and colours (Purple, golden, white & candy striped). Interestingly beets are mature before carrots, even though they have a larger root mass. Beets are carefree, with good soil they’ll likely grow just about anywhere.


History

Domesticated beetroot evolved from wild sea-beet, which grows along the seashore of Europe and Asia. It is now widely cultivated in Europe and America. Both the root and the leaves are eaten, some even prefer beetroot leaves to spinach J.

Science Stuff

Beetroot (Beta vulgaris) belongs to the beet or goosefoot family (Chenopodidae) This family includes Good King Henry, Orache & Fat Hen vegetables. This includes the spinach and swiss chard vegetables – so watch out! Your beet and spinach can cross-pollinate! J

Beets contain the nitrogen-containing anthocyanin (red pigment), betanin, which is used as a food colouring (this is what traditionally gave red velvet cakes their gorgeous colour J).

Coloured Beets
Photo: Beetman, Wikipedia

Growing Beets

Beet seeds are planted directly into the garden once the soil is warm enough, since they do not transplant well. Beets can be raised all year round in SA and Zone 7 gardens because the ground stays warm enough during winter and we do not get snow. Beets grown in winter will take longer to set, due to the reduced amount of light and shorter day lengths in winter as compared to summer.

Long rooted and large globe beets should be planted in the garden with soil dug over at least 30cm deep. These are designated as your main crop. Short rooted, small globe varieties or baby varieties can be grown in pots that are at least 20cm deep and will supply beets earlier than the main crop.

Beets in my garden take 2-3 months to set a mature root and lots of extra potassium (potash) added to the soil (as I have savannah soil). Else you will have bottle-brushes instead of beet J. Potash is added in a for-nightly (summer) to monthly (winter) basis. Like carrots, beets can be fertilised during their growing stage every second week, but once the roots have set, do not fertilise, as this will create split roots. Potash can be added regardless of root set or not – which makes for really useful stuff!

Succession Planting

I have explained this in my carrot section. Since then the succession planted roots have matured – and they clearly have their own idea about when to mature regardless of my well planned succession planting. So I am going to revise my succession planting for the beets and carrots to see whether this works better.

I am going to increase my square-foot planning space from 1 square foot to a square as large as 4 square foot spaces. I will plant these out according to my initial dimensions (5 beets per square foot, so 4 times larger would be 20 beets in a square). I am also going to plant these out every month and see whether that gives improved succession of the root crops J.
New succession planting, so 20 beets in 4x 1 foot(30x30cm)-squares, 36 carrots.
Alternating with carrots to reduce mono-cropping and pest accumulation.

If your soil is too cold in winter or if you get snow, I would suggest planting in squares (it still maximises space usage), but do not plant them in succession. Rather store the excess for the winter months.

Other Beet Tips

Some people say to be careful when you harvest the beet to minimise bleeding (and everything being red), but I have found that fresh beets do not bleed nearly as much as store-bought beets.
As with carrots, once the beets start to set their roots – cover the exposed root with soil, this prevents ‘brown shoulders’ on the root due to browning on the top of the root when it is subjected to sunlight.

Exposed beets
Dead and damaged leaves can be removed. Sometimes when it is very hot and the beets are exposed to a lot of sunlight their leaves will get red blotches – this is a defence mechanism of the plant to decrease sunlight and ‘sunburn’ – so do not worry if you see this J.
Red beet leaves to prevent sun damage

If seedlings are grown next to larger crops – just look out for the larger crop leaves not smacking the seedlings on the head! - especially when the wind blows or during rain. Since I’ll be planting in larger squares, I hope this problem will be minimised as well J. Remove any leaves that are in danger of hitting seedlings or is already lying atop seedlings, since this smothers, damages and sometimes kills seedlings.


Harvesting & Storing

Beets are stored the same way as carrots.

Beets are pulled from the ground by grabbing the leaves close to the root and turning the root while you pull it out. Usually beetroots are easier to lift than carrot roots, since the taproot is a lot smaller. But, if the root is being suborn, do not pull too hard or the root will break in half! Rather dig out or loosen some of the soil around the root and then remove.

In mild winter areas the beets can be left in the ground and use as needed.

Long term storage: If you can, beets can be stored in trays/boxes containing sand for winter usage. After washing the beets, the leaves are trimmed to 1cm from the root, then place them next to one another (not touching) in a tray filled with dampened sterile/clean river sand. Layer the sand and beets singly. The tray is sealed and stored in a cool, frost-free (and I suppose dark) place.

More practically, you can blanch the beets. After blanching dry the beets - make sure they are dry (leave for a few hours to dry) and then store in the refrigerator – or else you’ll have mushy beets when you cook them from not-properly-dried-before-frozen beets J.

Sort term storage: Fresh beets can be kept at room temperature for 3-4 days, after 3 days at room temperature or just a day in the fridge, they start to shrivel. Vacuum packing beets with a few drops of water, allows them to keep for up to a week in the fridge. The best place for short term storage of beets, is to just leave it in the ground until needed, especially if you have mild winters. Large beets (and carrots), contrary to popular belief, are not tough – I have had beets larger than a tennis ball (350g) that were still sweet and tender. They become tough from standing on the market shelf for too long J.

Seed Collection & Storage

Beets also flower in their second ‘summer’ in the ground. Now this can be in the same season/year (As our year in SA is flanked by summer and spring – Summer in Jan-Mar and Spring in Sep-Dec). Beets flower after they were exposed to a cold period.  The beets stored in sand can be replanted in spring and will flower J. Flowers are wind-pollinated.

Beet varieties will cross pollinate (such as yellow x purple, straight x globe ect). They can also cross-pollinate with some other members of the Chenopodiaceae family, such as spinach and swiss-chard.  So cover the flowers with netting/fleece and hand pollinate those you desire or just let the wind do that for you J. The seeds are ready for collection after they have dried and the flower stem has become brittle. The seeds should be harvested in the protective netting or bag used to isolate them from other Chenopodiaceae members, as the seeds easily scatter.

Before planting, the seeds are soaked in water overnight and the maximum germination soil temperature is 29oC (85oF) and the minimum is 4oC (40oF).

My beets:

Starke Ayres Detroit Dark Red: Large globe (purple) rooted beets. This is a good variety for hot and dry climates.

Detroit Dark Red

Franchi Candy Striped Beets (Chioggia): These are smaller globe rooted varieties with white and pink stripes. The Detroit Dark Red has superior flavour to these, but they make gardening interesting J. These set about a month quicker than the Detroit ones.

Candy Striped Beet

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Please share with fellow gardening enthusiasts via the various sharing buttons at the end of posts/pages! Else you can vote for posts through the Google reactions bar at the end of articles. To stay up to date I have provided several reader and social networking platforms with which to subscribe: TwitterPinterestRSS Feed Reader or Email/Follow directly using the Blog Followers widget on the left hand side toolbar. Thank you for reading and please feel free to ask if questions arise - I appreciate comments and ideas too! ­čść
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